Why do we leave this up to 19 year olds?
“Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposal cuts funding to public universities.”
— Columbia Missourian
“It is fair to ask how long we can continue to do more with less.”
— Interim UM president Steve Owens
9,700 bachelor’s degrees were granted in the UM System in 2010
Majors with 400 degrees granted or more include:
The nine majors shown account for 75% of degrees granted. The remaining 25% includes 18 majors with fewer than 400 degrees granted. Source: College Navigator, part of the Na6onal Center for Education Statistics of the Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education
Undergraduates choose their majors, and by doing so substantially control a significant portion of our state’s $850 million education investment, which is 10 percent of general revenue spending1. Decisions made for many different reasons by thousands of 18- to 23-year-olds define where our higher education spending is targeted and what we get for it. The result is that in 2011, the UM system produced 1,749 people with degrees in business, 1,145 in engineering, 903 in journalism, and so on as shown on the slide, including 411 in liberal arts.
From a public policy perspective, is this the desired outcome? Should we ask if decisions by 18- to 23-year-olds reflect our objectives for higher education spending? Are they consistent with a coherent higher education policy? Does Missouri have one? If we were to create such a policy, what would it be?
For example, it is widely believed that economic growth and prosperity come from technological innovation and a workforce highly skilled in science, technology, engineering and math. If maximizing degrees in these majors were our goal, what might change? How would we do it? Offer incentives to nudge a meaningful number of students toward these fields, perhaps, such as lower tuition, priority access to loans and loan forgiveness, or a tuition-free fifth year to earn a master's degree?
What would move universities to make this happen? Quotas with financial rewards and penalties or, perhaps, direct reallocation of resources toward these fields and away from others? How does this discussion affect taxpayers’ thinking about proposed cuts to higher education by the governor and discussion of possible tuition increases by the universities? Finally, what bearing does this have on the state’s economic development strategy?
1. Executive Budget FY 2012, Office of Administration. This is the governor's proposed budget. The final budget will be completed in May 2012.
JoAnne LaSala works with governments and non-profits on strategy and management, most recently in Ahmedabad, India and Cambridge, Mass. She was president of St. Louis 2004 and budget director of the city of St. Louis from 1988 to 1992.